When Jeffrey Pfeffer’s new book “Power, Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t,” came out recently, it did not get a lot of positive buzz in the leadership blogsphere. But I liked the book so much I might make it required reading for my next MBA class in organizational behavior. I neither like nor agree with everything Pfeffer has to say in the book, but he backs up his points with solid research, which I love. It has a few too many stories for my taste, but this is one of the best evidence-based books on leadership and management you can put your hands on, which is why I am recommending it.
Pfeffer’s writing got in my face and grabbed my attention in the introduction, where he wrote:
..the teaching on leadership is filled with prescriptions about following an inner compass, being truthful, letting inner feelings show, being modest and self-effacing, not behaving in a bullying or abusive way – in short, prescriptions about how people wish the world and the powerful behaved. There is no doubt that the world would be a much better, more humane place if people were always authentic, modest, truthful, and consistently concerned for the welfare of others instead of pursuing their own aims. But that world doesn’t exist. (p. 11).
Dang, I serve that kool-aid, so this was a real challenge for me. I do not intend to stop encouraging people to exhibit remarkable leadership, but Pfeffer is unfortunately right – the world I’ve worked in for 33 years has not been heavily populated with the kind of leaders I encourage others to be.
Pfeffer sets up the advice he offers in the book about how to acquire, keep, lose, and use power in his first chapter where he makes a strong case that your career success requires more than good performance:
The people responsible for your success are those above you, with the power to either promote or to block your rise up the organization chart. And there are always people above you, regardless of your position. Therefore, your job is to ensure that those influential others have a strong desire to make you successful. That may entail doing a good job. But it may also entail ensuring that those in power notice the good work that you do, remember you, and think well of you because you make them feel good about themselves. It is performance, coupled with political skill, that will help you rise through the ranks. Performance by itself is seldom sufficient, and in some instances, may not even be necessary. (p.35).
An ugly truth, but you’d be wise to heed Pfeffer’s counsel. But he ends his excellent book on an encouraging note:
So don’t complain about how life isn’t fair, or that your organizational culture isn’t healthy, or that your boss is a jerk. You have both the responsibility and the potential to change your situation, either in your present job or in some new place. Stop waiting for things to get better or for other people to acquire power and use it in a benevolent fashion to improve the situation. It’s up to you to find – or create – a better place for yourself. (236).
I strongly concur. Learn to continuously find the power to give yourself permission to be excellent by doing things your peers are not willing to do. Power is the heart of leadership and excellence. This book will help you understand how to get and keep power. It’s up to you to develop the strength of character and courage to use it wisely once you have it.